I was having fun in the first week of the new WTRL Zwift Duathlon series, slowly cranking up the run pace on the treadmill when, with just two minutes left to go, I felt a sharp pain in my left hamstring. Uh oh. Too much run intensity, too fast for these old legs. I immediately slowed way down and finished at a slow, limping jog. But this was just week one of six. How best to recover and prepare for next week without risking a strain turning into a full blown tear?
What is a pulled or strained hamstring?
If you’ve done any sort of athletic activity you’ve likely felt the tightness or sometimes sharp pain in the back of your upper leg when you try to push off or put pressure on your legs.
The hamstring is actually three muscles that run from your hip to behind your knee and work together to bend your knee and move your hips. working together.
There’s good news/bad news with hamstring strains. Bad news first: if you’re having pain or discomfort near the knee or hip, it’s going to take longer to heal because those areas just don’t receive great blood flow. If your strain is more in the middle of the muscle you might heal more quickly.
How to recover?
First, this is not an injury that you can typically work through. Tryng to push through will only make it worse. Pay attention to the pain cues. A hamstring strain or pull generally means you’ve gone too far for your current fitness.
If you mentally need to workout, avoid exercises that load up the hamstring. Instead, catch up on the core and upper body work you’ve been neglecting.
Icing the area in the first few hours or days can also help keep the swelling down. So can gentle stretches a couple times a day. A standing hamstring stretch or hurdler stretch are simple common ones that can be done anywhere.
How to prevent it?
Just strengthening the hamstrings alone won’t help you prevent future injuries. You need to work all the surrounding groups as well like the glutes, hip flexors, quads, and core. The upper leg muscles need to work in tandem to prevent imbalance injuries and ensure a strong, flexible base.
Many athletes believe it’s their inflexibility or tightness that led to the hamstring injury but the case is often a muscle imbalance where one of the large muscles, quads or hamstrings, is throwing off their stride or kinetic chain resulting in an injury. Correcting the imbalance by strengthening the hamstrings will often do more to avoid further injury than flexibility alone.
Best hamstring strength workouts: walking lunges, sprint intervals, and hill sprints.
A hamstring injury is common and something that is easily rehabbed, but don’t take it lightly. Don’t try to push through it. Stop, rest it, ice it, and then build that inter-connected muscle group back up with simple strength and stretching exercises. You’ll be back at it in no time.